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Length of deals is issue for RFAs
The focus this summer has been upon the unrestricted free agent market, but there’s another group of NHL free agents who still remain unsigned.
Several notable restricted free agents – those whose rights are still owned by their current teams – have yet to re-sign with their respective clubs.
The list includes Anaheim’s Bobby Ryan, Montreal’s Carey Price, Colorado’s Chris Stewart and Peter Mueller , Edmonton’s Sam Gagner, Atlanta’s Bryan Little and Niclas Bergfors, Dallas’ James Neal and Matt Niskanen, Nashville’s Patric Hornqvist, Tampa Bay’s Steve Downie, Phoenix’s Martin Hanzal and the New York Rangers’ Marc Staal.
It’s not uncommon for restricted free agents to remain unsigned a month out from the start of training camp but it is unusual to see so many notables like the aforementioned still unsigned by mid-August.
Ryan’s stalled talks with the Ducks have garnered the most media attention. Both sides have agreed on what he should be paid ($5 million per season) but the contract term is the sticking point.
The Ducks want to ink the 23-year-old Ryan, who’s coming off two straight 30-goal seasons, to a five-year deal but the winger reportedly wants a shorter term, preferably three years, as he believes he’ll be worth more beyond that.
The same problem is apparently a sticking point in the 24-year-old Price’s negotiations with the Canadiens, who are reportedly offering a five-year deal. He’s supposedly after a two-year contract, believing he’ll have more value beyond that point.
On the other hand, Neal is believed to be seeking a longer contract as the 23-year-old apparently spurned a two-year, $5 million offer from the Stars.
A few years ago, the Stars probably would’ve happily signed Neal, who netted 27 goals last season, to a longer term, but the team is currently under a very tight budget as it’s in the process of being sold. It’s possible once the sale is finalized Neal could be signed shortly thereafter.
Interestingly, there’s been little coming out of the New York media regarding Staal’s talks with the Rangers. About three weeks ago, Staal told a reporter he wasn’t allowed to say much about his contract talks other than to hope his agent can get a deal done with the Blueshirts soon.
That’s led some to suggest the sticking point could be that the two-year, $2.6 million per season deal signed by Erik Johnson with the St. Louis Blues is setting the market value for a comparable defenseman like Staal.
Recent reports out of Phoenix and Tampa Bay suggest the Coyotes and Lightning could be close to inking Hanzal and Downie to new deals, though there’s no word on what the two young forwards are seeking or what their clubs have offered.
As for the remainder, there’s been almost nothing of note in recent weeks coming from the players or their teams as to the status of their negotiations.
It’s possible several of these players could still be unsigned when training camp begins but unlikely they’ll still be without contracts once the season begins. None of them are expected to stage holdouts, something that has been a rarity since the imposition of the salary cap five years ago.
Given the lack of quality talent remaining in this summer’s unrestricted free agent market, the question has been raised over why some of the aforementioned RFA players haven’t received offer sheets from rival teams.
As tempting as it might be for some general managers, the fact is there weren’t many teams with a lot of available cap space heading into this summer and there are even fewer now.
Some teams – like the Ducks with Ryan and the Rangers with Staal – have publicly claimed they’ll match any offer for those players. It’s still possible there could be an offer sheet made to one of those players, but it’s a slim one at best.
It’s possible one or two could be dealt if their contract impasses continue, but most probably won’t be shopped.
Ducks management repeatedly insisted Ryan won’t be traded while a recent report out of Montreal dismissed the possibility Price would be moved.